Here's colorful: When ABC threw in the towel in 1959 after six years of broadcasting the Wednesday Night Fights, it did so in part because the fight game had become rotten to the core, fixed, according to the Oct. 1, 1959, New York Post, by "four known hoodlums, including the notorious Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo."
Born at the wrong time. I want to wear a fedora with a press card in the hatband and roll out that sentence fragment for the Post on a clacketing Royal:...four known hoodlums, including the notorious Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo.... Born at the wrong time.
Flip, and familiar images from my childhood flicker onscreen. Brent Musburger is earnestly and breathlessly describing how competitors in refrigerator-racing must concentrate most of the weight of a Frigidaire "on the small of the back." Flip. Decathletes Oleg Cassini and Tim Conway and George Hamilton are competing on Battle of the Network Stars. Flip. Here is Battle of the Network Stars being parodied famously in a Second City Television sketch called "Battle of the PBS Stars": A mock Fred Rogers and Julia Child square off in a prizefight, and as Mr. Rogers pummels The French Chef, a disgusted, disconsolate Cosell announces, "He is beating the woman senseless with a puppet...."
I am being swept under in a '70s vortex, awash in images of a decade in which the only contribution to sports television was Rockin' Rollen's introduction of the rainbow fright wig. Flip. Evel Knievel and his rocket ship are plunging red, white and blue into the Snake River Canyon when, mercifully—-flip—a young Walter Cronkite appears in black and white wearing a comical sweater with a horizontal, zigzag, Charlie Brown pattern happening on it. He is hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics, for which CBS has paid a staggering $50,000 rights fee.
Jim McKay hosts that year's Summer Games from Manhattan, though the Games are held in Rome. He says things like "The videotape of today's great race has just arrived at Idlewild Airport here in New York. Let's try to switch now to our mobile unit at Idlewild...." You probably don't remember McKay as Jim McManus, because he changed his name when CBS hired him to host a show called The Real McKay. Less than a year after the Rome Olympics, ABC introduces McKay as host of the new Wide World, which in (he next three decades will bring America cliff diving in Acapulco, the Las Vegas "Helldorado" Rodeo, the Ladies Demolition Derby from Islip, Long Island, and Fabulous Magicians Basketball from Muskogee, Okla. And who could forget, on a December Saturday in 1962, the Wide World broadcast of I lie first half of the Grey Cup Canadian Football League championship, which is followed one week later by the second half of the Grey Cup Canadian Football League championship? (The marching band is near exhaustion.)
In 1963, CBS introduces instant replay, which—upon further review—will prove to be more trouble than it's worth. In 1964 the Friday night fights are stopped. And in January 1967 the Super Bowl debuts, ushering in the era of bad taste and excess that will endure for decades. Excess? Super Bowl I is televised on both NBC and CBS. The kick-off that opens the second half does not count, because NBC hasn't returned in time from a commercial. Thus, there is a "do-over" for the sake of TV. This is not a good sign.
Two years later, of course, on Nov. 17, 1968, NBC switches to Heidi at 7 p.m. Eastern as the Oakland Raiders trail the New York Jets by three points with 50 seconds left in their game. The Raiders score twice in nine seconds to win 43-32, and NBC flashes the final score during the climactic wheelchair scene of Heidi, effectively ruining the end of that program as well. The network receives so many calls of complaint that the entire Circle 7 exchange in Manhattan is paralyzed.
Flip, flip, flip. I search for one more program before I go blinking into the sunlight of modern-day Manhattan, where the Circle 7 exchange is gone, as are countless other relics of another time, including the notorious Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo. Friday night fights have given way to Friday Night Videos. I flip one more time, hoping to close with something big—a medley of Bacharach hits, perhaps, or a musical tribute to George Gershwin.
Instead, Tommy Lasorda appears singing Strangers in the Night on the stage of The Mike Douglas Show of May 29, 1979. I have spiraled as deeply into the '70s vortex as one can. Tony Orlando, sans Dawn, is co-hosting the show and asking the question of the day: Should women reporters be allowed in the locker room (which the hopelessly show-biz Orlando refers to as the "dressing room")?
"Women shouldn't want to be in a locker room where players are undressing and taking showers," says Lasorda, who is wearing a navy-blue kite in place of a necktie.